Week of Aug. 14: A contagious faith can lead others to follow God
By HERCHEL SHEETS
Lesson for week of Aug. 14
Scripture: Ruth 1:8-18
How did you decide to live where you now live? Maybe during your lifetime you have lived in several different places, and in each one for a different reason. I occasionally meet persons who have never lived anywhere other than where they live now, though that is less common than it used to be. But have you ever decided to move from one community to another because someone important to you lived there?
If Ruth, a native of the country of Moab, were asked that question, she would say: "Yes, I did. I decided to move, not just from one community to another community, but from one country to another country because of someone important to me. That person was my mother-in-law, Naomi."
Choosing another's God
This must not have been an easy decision for Ruth. She was of another nationality and another religion, and this meant changing both. The Moabites, like the Hebrews, were a distinct people. Their god was Chemosh, and he differed significantly from Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews. But the time came when Ruth was determined to leave her home in Moab and move with Naomi to her home in Bethlehem in Judah.
Because of a famine in Bethlehem 10 years earlier, Naomi and her husband and their two sons had moved across the Jordan River to Moab. These had been sad years for Naomi as death took from her the three men in her life. The two sons had married, and their widows were Naomi's only consolation. In her grief, she decided to go back to Bethlehem. She would be among friends and relatives there, people who shared a common heritage, culture, and faith.
At first both of her daughters-in-law insisted on going with her. She urged them to stay with their own families, since she had nothing to offer them in her land. Orpah, weeping and wailing, was persuaded, but Ruth said: "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God."
Ruth was not only choosing Naomi's country and people. She was also choosing her God. That was a religious commitment that would never have occurred if Ruth had not come to know and to love Naomi. Ruth chose both Naomi's community and Naomi's God because she had first chosen Naomi!
Do you think that most people arrive at religious faith through a long process of thinking and reasoning? If you have made a commitment of your life to Jesus Christ, was it a purely intellectual decision, or was it a decision of the heart?
I would not discount the importance of thought and reason in religion. Most of us need to do a great deal more thinking about our faith than we do. But as I look back upon my own Christian experience, I realize that my earliest decisions for Christ were not head decisions; they were heart decisions. I did not make them because I had thought everything out. I made them because of an inward impulse, a feeling that this was the thing to do, an attraction that was more emotional than intellectual. And that was primarily because of the influence of persons important to me, especially members of my family.
Ruth's decision both to move to Naomi's country and to accept her God was a heart decision. That is not to say that she had not thought about it, but it is to say that the emotions of her heart were moving her in that direction. She is a classic example of a person catching faith from someone else. If she had been asked why she was transferring her religious loyalty from Chemosh to Yahweh, she would have said, "It is because of Naomi." She was becoming a worshiper of Yahweh because of Naomi.
The late New Testament scholar John Knox told of growing up in a home that was devoutly Christian. His father was a Methodist preacher who succumbed to a ravishing disease when he was scarcely 50 years old. "But his faith," Dr. Knox said, "was strong and invincible. It burned in him, a steady glowing flame, a source of warmth and light to all about him and especially to those who belonged most closely to him." Dr. Knox went on to become an outstanding biblical scholar. But he would have denied that he owed his Christian commitment first of all to those who helped him to become a scholar. He owed it to those who first made the Christian faith attractive to him through their lives, his father pre-eminent among those.
In The Holy Grail, Tennyson tells of a young woman who believes strongly in the possibility of finding the cup from which Christ drank at his last supper with his disciples. Tennyson says of a young knight by the name of Galahad that, "he believed in her belief."
When we talk about increasing church membership and winning persons to Christ, there is plenty to be said for methods, programs, facilities, and personnel. There is plenty to be said for study and teaching about the Christian faith. But it just may be that the Church's greatest need is for people with such winsome commitment to Christ that people around them "believe in their belief." There's no substitute for contagious faith.